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February 2012, Volume 63, Number 9

» Notes from the Editors
February 2012, Volume 63, Number 9
» Notes from the Editors

This issue of Monthly Review focuses particularly on China. Aside from the Review of the Month by John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, which addresses the Chinese economy and its relation to the current phase of the capitalist world economy, we are publishing two separate contributions by Chinese scholars, one by Wen Tiejun, et. al., on the new rural reconstruction movement in China, and one by Zhihe Wang on the development of ecological Marxism in China.

Our own thesis is that the era of rapid growth in China is leading to a period of deepening contradiction. The present accelerated growth is based on the intensive exploitation of migrant labor and the capitalization of newly urban land. For various reasons this model is reaching its outer limits, economically, socially, and ecologically. This suggests that China is on the wrong road, and must change directions. Indeed, the unsustainability of China’s current course is increasingly recognized by the Chinese government itself. Thus China’s Premier Wen Jiabao stated in 2007 that China’s present growth pattern is “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and ultimately unsustainable.”

One famous answer to the growing problems of Chinese development has been offered by what is known in China as the “new rural reconstruction movement,” of which Wen Tiejun, dean of the School of Agronomics and Rural Development at Renmin University in China, is the widely acknowledged leader. The starting point of this analysis—as indicated by Wen’s influential essay, “Deconstructing Modernism” (Chinese Sociology and Anthropology, Summer 2007), and by the contribution of Wen and his associates to this issue of MR—is that the model of “modernization” presented by Western analysis is inappropriate today for China and most other large countries in the global South. The early stage of primitive accumulation, which underwrote Western industrialization/modernization was dependent on colonization, which gave the West an outlet for its surplus population, and the capacity to appropriate resources on an unequal basis from much of the rest of the world. None of this is possible for China today. This means that China must proceed, at an earlier stage of its development, along a more sustainable path, concerned with avoiding huge inequities between rural and urban areas. This requires a different approach to the land (the foundations of which already exists in the equitable distribution of land use rights resulting from the land reform of the Chinese Revolution). The future of China for Wen and his associates thus lies in many ways in a new rural reconstruction—one that rejects Western-style modernization in favor of a strategy built on “indigenous” Chinese knowledge, and on an understanding of recent world developments and the modern history of China. This approach also is aimed at avoiding “the planet of slums” phenomenon that characterizes much of the global South by pursuing a more balanced form of rural-urban development.

The work of Wen Tiejun and his associates is a manifestation in part of the growing concern in China with ecological issues. Such concerns have spurred the rapid incorporation within China of the ideas of Western ecological Marxism, associated with such thinkers as James O’Connor, John Bellamy Foster, Paul Burkett, Joel Kovel, Fred Magdoff, Victor Wallis, Michael Perelman, and others. As Zhihe Wang, director of the Institute for Postmodern Development of China (located in Claremont, CA), suggests in this issue, the fact that Marx advanced a complex critique of Western capitalist modernization rooted in notions of sustainability is increasingly recognized in intellectual circles in China, and is seen as the basis for pursuing ecological development with Chinese Marxist characteristics. Indeed, there are signs that Western scholarship in this area is being critically absorbed within China as a legitimate part of an ongoing rich Chinese discussion. We are too far removed from the Chinese setting to go beyond raising the possibility that the stage is again being set for a major transformative application of Marxism. We are naturally watching these developments with fascination.

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David Montgomery, an MR author and the nation’s leading labor historian, died on December 2, at the age of 84. Paul Buhle writes:

David Montgomery will be remembered by many as the “American E.P. Thompson,” scholar of the industrial working class more than of unions or labor officials, and remembered by others as a staunch, active supporter of local labor and progressive activities wherever he lived.
Raised in Depression-era Pennsylvania, Montgomery served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and afterwards graduated from Swarthmore College. He worked in factories from New York to Minnesota, usually as a machinist active in various unions, but pursued by the FBI for his radical views and movement practices until he reluctantly abandoned the proletarian life for graduate school. By 1967, teaching at the University of Pittsburgh, he published Beyond Equality: Labor and Radical Republicans, 1862-1872, regarded by many as the finest, most thoroughly Marxist labor history of North America written to this date. On sabbatical, he studied with E.P. Thompson in Britain, reinforcing his own approach. His The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State and Labor Activism, 1865-1925 (1988) achieved still more acclaim as a prodigious study of labor’s defeat in the ongoing process of industrial changes and successful repression.
In later years, he taught at Yale University where he devoted his energies, apart from raising a school of future labor historians, to the local union movement, especially that part of the movement directed by graduate students and staff, against Yale University itself. Untiring and always cheerful, he offered a model in political life, a gifted public speaker, yet always personally modest. Along with Herbert Gutman and David Brody, he became known as the creator of the “New Labor History,” a field that flourished for decades, inviting young radicals to scholarly devotions. A special place within that field as well as his own political work was always the class-race nexus, treated without sentimentalism or despair. Our condolences and deepest sympathies go to Martel, his comrade and wife of 59 years, to his sons Claude and Ed, and to their families.